United Nurses of Alberta files grievance to resolve short staffing in Red Deer Emergency Department

Media Release

“It is important to understand that this is not a problem caused by a cluster of vacations, but by chronic understaffing at this facility over a long period of time." — David Harrigan, Director of Labour Relations

After two years of working to get Alberta Health Services to resolve critical staffing shortages in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Emergency Department, United Nurses of Alberta filed a grievance last week seeking to require the provincial health care system to alleviate the problem by hiring at least 27 full-time Registered Nurses and implementing other remedies.

Despite media reports Saturday that AHS expects to resolve the nursing shortage today, UNA believes it is not possible to fix months of chronic problems without significant new nursing hires in the Red Deer Emergency Department.

The UNA grievance was filed on June 19, before local media in the Central Alberta city broke the story of the nursing crisis in the department.

On the same day, UNA had formally requested a meeting with AHS President and CEO Verna Yiu under the terms of the collective agreement between the union and employer to resolve the continuing shortage of nurses in Red Deer.

“It is important to understand that this is not a problem caused by a cluster of vacations, but by chronic understaffing at this facility over a long period of time,” said UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan. “UNA has been attempting to resolve this staffing crisis in Red Deer for more than two years. We felt we had no choice but to file a formal grievance under our collective agreement to resolve both patient safety concerns our members have and the workplace stress chronic understaffing is causing.”

UNA’s grievance states that the employer, AHS, has failed to post vacancies in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Emergency Department, and that this has resulted in the past 10 weeks in mandatory overtime and additional shifts for RNs equivalent to 27 full-time positions. Even with the additional shifts, during the past month there have been only five days when the department was working to baseline, the grievance says.

As of June 6, 2018, there were 271 known vacant shifts in the schedule for the month of July alone, the UNA grievance added.

RNs employed at the hospital report receiving dozens of text messages in a day putting them under pressure to work additional shifts. Despite this, the employer has posted no additional jobs to fill the vacancies.

“In addition to the problems it could cause for patients, this situation is causing burnout, fatigue and psychological distress to nurses,” said Margo Buss, vice-president of UNA Local 2 at the Red Deer Hospital and a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department. “Our grievance argues the employer needs to provide safe and healthy working conditions.”

In addition to seeking 27 new positions, the grievance calls for:

-    AHS to cease pressuring employees to work additional shifts
-    The employer to close parts of the Emergency Department to allow safe staffing and inform the public it has done so
-    AHS to review its hazard assessment of the department immediately to ensure psychological hazards are controlled in a situation of short staffing
-    AHS to immediately stop using its automated callout system

UNA noted that AHS has already implemented one of the corrective actions the union requested, the posting of paramedics and ambulances in the department to transport prospective patients to other sites, Harrigan said.

United Nurses of Alberta is the union representing more than 30,000 Alberta Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied health care workers.

A copy of the grievance is attached.

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